Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Purchased through the Phyllis and Bertram Geller 1937 Memorial Fund; S.963.155
Considered the most prominent American sculptor of the late nineteenth century, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a master of every scale and format—from small coins and intimate portrait reliefs to imposing private memorials and public monuments. This relief is a reduction of Saint-Gaudens’s third portrayal of the Scottish novelist, travel writer, poet, and essayist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). Saint-Gaudens first modeled Stevenson, who suffered from tuberculosis, in the writer’s New York hotel room in 1887. The sculptor recalled, “All I had time to do from him then was the head, which I modeled in five sittings . . . These were given me in the morning, while he, as was his custom, lay in bed propped up with pillows.” Saint-Gaudens and Stevenson became friends and kindred artistic spirits, despite their different media. Before Stevenson gave Saint-Gaudens an advance copy of his book Underwoods, he inscribed the flyleaf: “Each of us has his own way / I with ink and you with clay.” Saint-Gaudens modeled his second version of the likeness in the form of a medallion, which he had cast in several variants. The third version, upon which this is based, originated in an 1894 commission from the Church of St. Giles, Edinburgh, and was completed in 1903. The composition captures the writer in convalescence, yet deep in thought with pen in hand. The inscription across the background is taken from his poem Songs of Travel, XV. Its sentiments transform this version of the relief, which was modeled after the author’s death, into an especially poignant memorial:
Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them.
Still they are carolled and said—
On wings they are carried—
After the singer is dead
And the maker buried.
Last Updated: 5/13/09